Theatre is too valuable to be wasted on the few.
I want more Americans to see more theatre.
Enough more, that it calls for a ridiculous goal.
Triple playgoing in America by 2020.
I’m convinced we could do it by following three radical strategic prongs:
1. Diversify theatre production: Theatre needs productions in new and more diverse styles, contexts, and producing models to reach out to people who have opted out of attending what most of us are doing now. Theatre particularly needs to reach out with forms and contexts that will meet people more than half way on their journey from the couch to the theater seat.
The success of productions like Sleep No More (sleepnomorenyc.com), Beertown (dogandponydc.com/beertown_premiere), Richie (littlegreenpig.com/season.htm), and The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart (nationaltheatrescotland.com/content/default.asp?page=home_prudenciahart) serve as evidence that there is an enthusiastic audience for theatre that exceeds ordinary expectations of theatrical form. A broader range of types of production will provide more and differently baited front doors into playgoing.
2. Reinvent theatre marketing: The availability and value of great theatre needs to be communicated to prospective audience members in ways that will compel them to attend. Let’s all agree that we’ve pretty well tapped out the rate of new playgoer creation we can achieve by running a few local media ads, mailing some postcards, and sending out email blasts. We need to deliver riveting invitations to productions through all effective media and especially face to face. Set up a table at your farmers market and perform 90 second plays to draw attention to the availability of locovore art. Stage a brief, fascinating argument scene from your upcoming production live and without permission in public places near your venue then leaflet the show to people who watched. Work your social networks, actual and electronic, much more energetically. Teach audience members how to be good word of mouth distributors. New and more salient channels to market will be essential to recruiting large numbers of new playgoers.
3. Create playgoing as a hobby: When people view their participation in an activity as a hobby, they engage in it more frequently. Other interests in my life, such as board gaming and craft beer, have rich infrastructures made up of jargon, publications, web sites, and conventions that make them sticky to participants and more visible to potential future participants. Our community has infrastructure elements like those for playmaking, but very little for playgoing. Helping our audience members identify as playgoers will increase their frequency of attending and make them more likely to recommend playgoing to others in their lives.
So there we are. Three slightly complicated, creativity demanding, labor intensive, and rejection inviting ideas which, if carried out, will lead to materially more people attending theatre.
I intend to discuss this plan with as many people in the field as I can manage, honing both the strategy and the language used to describe it. I plan to post more ideas in each of the three prongs. Hopefully, some of you will get on board and help as well. More hopefully, you’ll come up with a better strategy I can get behind instead, although this one is feeling pretty good.
I have no standing that would permit me to launch a major initiative like this. My efforts here are probably fueled by equal parts affection for theatre and arrogance, so I will sign off as
Self-ordained chaplain of the American theatre
Any amens out there?